Analysis & Opinions - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Africa Beyond the Headlines: A Kaleidoscopic Exploration of Contemporary African Politics and International Cooperation


Africa is at a pivotal moment. As the continent experiences dynamic change, a timely opportunity emerges for the United States to recalibrate relations with the diverse nations across the continent by embracing partnerships centered on African realities. With youthful populations, abundant resources, and growing economic and technological capacity, Africa holds solutions to global challenges from food security to climate change. Yet inclusive, sustainable development in Africa largely depends on international cooperation. The United States can craft a foreign policy agenda that more closely aligns with Africa’s profound transformation through trade, investments in clean energy and health, and youth empowerment initiatives grounded in mutual understanding by moving beyond outdated policies. The future of U.S.-Africa ties will impact our interconnected world.

Dr. Gloria Ayee, the study group lead, authored Key Takeaways and an Executive Summary.

Expert guest speakers contributed to the session’s discussions, including:

  1. Dr. Antje Herrberg, Chief of Staff of the European Union Capacity Building Mission in Niger
  2. Professor Sabs K. Quereshi, a senior-level leader in global health and gender equality
  3. H.E. Patrick Achi, former Prime Minister of Côte d’Ivoire
  4. Ely Sandler, Fellow at the Belfer Center
  5. Dr. Salma Abdalla, a Sudanese medical doctor and Assistant Professor in Global Health and Epidemiology at Boston University.

Session 1

Democratic Transitions and Conflict Zones: The Impact on Policy-Making in Africa

The first session will examine recent democratic progress and backsliding in African countries. We will discuss how transitions impact governance capacity and policy formulation. The session will also focus on ongoing conflicts in different regions of Africa and examine their political underpinnings, and consider how these conflicts influence policy decisions. We will also discuss the role of peacekeeping efforts on democratic transitions, and analyze how conflict areas pose challenges for institutional reforms and service delivery. As we assess cases of recent transitions, we will discuss the implications on domestic and foreign policy. 


Session 2

Global Players: The Role of International Humanitarian Organizations in Africa

The second session will evaluate the role of international humanitarian groups in shaping political and social outcomes in Africa. We will examine how these organizations deal with emergencies, crises, and conflict situations across the continent, and scrutinize their influence on policy decisions and discuss the potential benefits and drawbacks of their involvement. Discussions will cover the expanding influence of organizations like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), and the International Rescue Committee (ICR).


Session 3

Politics and Prosperity: Examining Economic Development in Africa

The third session will explore connections between politics and economic growth trajectories across Africa. As we will delve into the intersection of politics and economic development, we will analyze the role of political stability in fostering economic growth and discuss how policy decisions can either hinder or promote this progress. We will discuss the impact of factors like commodity markets, foreign aid, trade deals, and regional integration initiatives on development indicators.


Session 4

Climate Change: Political Implications and Policy Response in Africa

The fourth session will address the pressing issue of climate change and its political implications in Africa. This session will highlight the disproportionate impact of climate change effects on African nations and how governments are responding through policy measures. We will discuss the policies needed to mitigate the effects of climate change, as well as the political challenges in implementing them. As we consider the political hurdles, we will debate opportunities for formulating adaptive strategies. We will also focus on policy innovations and governance reforms that are needed to strengthen resilience.


Session 5

Healthcare in Focus: Political Hurdles and Policy Progress in Africa

The final session will examine healthcare access policies and public health initiatives across Africa. In our discussions, we will explore the politics of health and healthcare policy, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. We will identify political barriers to expanding healthcare coverage and access, and the dialogue will center on areas of progress in addressing infectious and chronic diseases. Beyond focusing on the challenges in implementing effective healthcare policies, in this session we will invite participants to propose policy solutions as we look towards the future.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:Africa Beyond the Headlines: A Kaleidoscopic Exploration of Contemporary African Politics and International Cooperation.” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, June 14, 2024.